by Dean Mattson

On Friday, Apple released Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5), its first major operating system release in a couple years.

I, of course, had to have it immediately and installed it the first chance I got. (That’s not to say I wasn’t prepared. I made sure I had a bootable backup ready to go in case disaster struck.)

As with previous releases, I continued my tradition of completely erasing my hard drive before installing the new operating system. Although it’s not really necessary, I download and try out so much things, my computer becomes overstuffed with a lot of stuff I never use anymore. I like the idea of starting clean and fresh and re-adding my old programs as I discover I need them.

Perhaps as a result, the installation went smoothly. Strangely, the thing that took the most time was when it did a check on my DVD which seemed to take forever. I guess that’s useful – you don’t want the process to fail halfway through because of flawed disc – but I wish it wouldn’t have taken nearly so long. After that was completed, the new OS installed itself and then I imported my documents and music files.

When you restart your computer, you’ll immediately notice two of Leopard’s changes. The menubar is now darker and translucent and the dock looks like a reflective glass shelf that your applications sit upon. They both look nice but the dock’s effect is lost if you move it and I like to keep mine hidden away on the right-hand side of the screen.

Perhaps even more than the marquee features, what will be most appreciated about Leopard is the numerous small fixes and improvements that have been made. Like the fact that iCal displays the current date in the dock. Or that Spotlight searches can be fine-tuned and are much more useful. Or that connecting to a .Mac iDisk doesn’t jam up the system like it would before. Or that Safari is finally letting me see the Blog Switcher in WordPress MU. Or just that the computer generally seems spiffier and more responsive.

If you have more than one Mac, Leopard makes it much easier to connect and share files between your computers. If your computers are on the same LAN, you’ll see all of them show up in the Finder’s sidebar. After two clicks and an entered password, you can look at all your files on any computer you have rights to. With another click, you can see and manipulate its desktop just as if you were sitting in front of it. This is also supposed to work over the Internet with either iChat or Back to My Mac, but I haven’t been able to test these. Both computers need to be running Leopard for iChat screen sharing to work and Back to My Mac doesn’t seem to be working reliably yet. But if they do, they could be invaluably helpful for me. Last summer, a colleague of mine needed someone to type in an administrator’s password so she could install an update. I tried everything I could think of so I could do that remotely, but I wasn’t able to pull it off. Maybe next summer I will be able to.

Many of Leopard’s new features sound good, but I don’t think I’ll be using them. Spaces sounds interesting, but I don’t see ever using that. The new Parental Controls sound impressive, but won’t be needed by me until we buy some new Macs at school. Even Quick Look . . . maybe it’ll be helpful but I don’t really browse through my files. I usually know what I’m looking for and go straight to the file I need. When I need to search for something, I’ll use Spotlight.

But 10.5′s most touted feature is one I’ll definitely be using: Time Machine. I’ve used backup software in the past, but I’ve been an all or nothing type of backup-er. Once every month or two, I back up everything, which isn’t very efficient. Time Machine creates an ongoing series of backups which makes sense to me and I can look at it and see all my files are there. I think that is very well done.

Is it worth you spending your money on? I don’t know. I always have trouble with that question when people ask me it. Are there some nice features in there? Yes, but only you can decide if it’s worth the money you’ll have to shell out for it. Do you need a good backup solution? Do you collaborate with another Mac user over the Internet and wish you had more ways to exchange information? Do you do tech support for a relative who doesn’t live nearby? Then Leopard is probably for you. If not, you might be happy living with 10.4 awhile longer.